I did something a little crazy. Okay, it was a lot crazy:
I recreated the Cones of Dunshire and played out an actual game with my friends. It took 8 hours and was completely ridiculous.
But let’s start at the beginning. If you don’t know what the Cones of Dunshire is, then you should watch this Parks and Recreation clip. And for extra credit, this Vulture article is really good, too.
Okay, cool. Now we’re on the same page. Well, probably not, actually, since I studied both these things for hours, extracting every possible scrap of information about the rules I possibly could. I stared at this screen cap for far too long wondering, “Does that card in the lower left say ‘mountain’ or ‘minotaur’?”
But anyway, here it is – my story of turning that 2-minute video into an 8-hour game. In this post and the next, I will chronicle the grand adventure of roping in 7 hapless victims to play the game with me, and what transpired when we sat around the board and started rolling dice.
If you want more of a “Designer’s Diary” on how I created the complete rules for the game, valiantly attempting to wrestle so many broken, unwieldy mechanics into a game that my friends would at least tolerate, then follow this link.
Lastly, if you have some masochistic desire to play the Cones of Dunshire yourself, you can head over to this post to find a PDF of the rules and a link to the print-and-play files, as well as a description of how I built the board and other stuff.
“Hey do you want to come over some time and play this game I designed? Honestly, it may take a little while because there are 8 players, and the rules are pretty ridiculous and broken, so I have no idea if it will be any fun. You may need to bring some alcohol.”
Okay, maybe that wasn’t my exact pitch, but I didn’t want to trick people into playing the game. That would have only led to disaster when they sat down and realized what they had gotten themselves into. Plus, come on. I’m a good host. I supplied the alcohol.
It took some work, but I eventually found 7 other people crazy enough to join me on the adventure.
First there was Andy, a fan of Parks and Rec and a seasoned board gamer. He was an obvious choice.
I had 2 other board game friends, Ben and Brian, who always seemed to be up for my crazy ideas. Brian actually had to cancel at the last minute because he had a date, so I ended up roping my (very reluctant) wife to take his spot. She’s pretty great as far as wives go and was a good sport about it.
But that was only half our roster. Luckily, my wife and I knew some other couples into board games and ridiculous adventures. So Matt and Ilana, along with Janelle and Joe, rounded out our crew.
Once everyone had arrived and procured their snacks and drinks, I began to assign some roles around the table. The wizards needed to be tricky and keep people on their toes, as they are the most social of the classes with their ability to trade their spirit cards freely. They needed to be able to bluff to pass off potentially dangerous chaos cards onto their hapless victims. The most social and savvy of this group of board game nerds had to be Matt (Wizard 1), a generally jovial and hilarious guy, and Andy (Wizard 2), who can pick things up easily and has a good sense of humor even in the face of adversity (which he would see very, very soon).
The other tricky spot to fill was the maverick, whose ability to take actions whenever he wants in any order is best suited to someone familiar with the mechanics of the game to begin with. I mean, that was sort of the whole point, since the original rules stated as much, so I intentionally made the character complicated (and rad). The only one experienced, however, was me. I had tried to train Brian before we actually played, but because he was unable to come, that didn’t really help at all. And I had to play the ledgerman to make sure everybody was keeping track of everything appropriately.
So I just asked for someone brave and Joe, a math professor, answered the call. With me as the ledgerman, that left the arbiter the corporal and the 2 warriors to fill, and I let the remaining players decided amongst themselves. My wife (generally not super board game savvy, but super hot) took the arbiter, Matt’s wife Ilana took a seat next to him as Warrior 1, Ben, an all around nice guy (except when playing games) decided on the corporal, and Joe’s wife Janelle filled the Warrior 2 spot.
And then I spent an hour explaining the rules. Every last one (except the ones I forgot), concluding with how each of the player powers broke the rules. By the end, people had forgotten what I had said at the beginning and we decided to just start playing.
The game started simply enough with the maverick rolling up his points and then moving on. My wife as the arbiter was next and she was pretty lost. Plus she got a pretty terrible roll. I coached her along and, seeing as how she started on some “Hot Sands,” she built a commercial corridor to help mitigate crappy rolls in the future.
Wizard 1 was up next with a handful of spells. He built up an army on his border with his wife and then made a mad dash with his avatar to the mountain summit. He ended up 1 hex short, failing to claim the Cone of Decision. Warrior 1’s turn saw some expansion and a similar army buildup on the Warrior 1/Wizard 1 border. Apparently these two don’t trust each other…
And then the first war began. Because Ben is so nice and mild-mannered in real life, it’s easy to forget how much he enjoys messing with people in a low-stakes game atmosphere. Perhaps giving him the corporal, who has the potential to amass huge armies and roll over people, was not a good decision. Or maybe it was just what the game needed.
He dropped a couple barracks to beef up his army and them immediately set about invading Wizard 2, killing troops and taking over a farm. He also acquired the game’s first sub-cone by having 4 barracks on the board. Andy’s wizard was a good sport about it, though, even after he got a crappy roll in response and no spirit cards that would help repel the invading forces. All he was able to do was build some forts on what territory he had left to brace for further attacks.
It also became clear at this point that the maverick was using his interrupt moves not to move into other people territories to disrupt them, but to also move toward the mountain summit. And he was going to get there before wizard 1. In response, the wizard offered him a spirit card to halt his advance for a turn. Wizard 1 just wanted a taste of power for a turn. He also wanted to turn the whole of Dunshire into a rave by covering and uncovering the cone repeatedly until I made a new rule that he could only do so once per round.
Warrior 2 was next with a bit of economic expansion and then I followed suit with the same. Turn 1 was finished with blood spilled and some nasty chaos cards burning holes in some wizards’ pockets.
In turn 2, the arbiter kept trying to build up an army with her free reign of the agriculture cards, but all she could draw was irrigation. In response, both the maverick and wizard 1 invaded her farms. She was not very happy about this.
Wizard 1 finally made it to the mountain summit. His trivia question was “What avatar does the purple player control?” and seeing how he was the purple player, the question was a tad obvious. He took control of the cone and uncovered it, plunging Dunshire into darkness.
The corporal continued his subjugation of wizard 2’s lands, scavenging his farm and invading a 2nd hex. Wizard 2 was still unable to build up a decent army in response.
After a turn of waiting, the maverick also made it to the peak, as well as wizard 2, but they all decided that wizard 1 could hang on to control of the cone.
An inconsequential chaos card (trade cones with a random player) went off, but some of the more dangerous ones were getting passed around hot-potato style so that they never actually went off. I decided that I needed to make the card-trading rules perhaps more stringent so that this kind thing doesn’t happen. They need to go off eventually, guys!
More players are starting to collect sub-cones, mostly blue and green, as the game seems to have gotten more aggressive than I anticipated. A lot of barracks are being built, and, after seeing what happened to Wizard 2, forts also become a popular building.
Warrior 1 and the corporal both use their blue sub-cone to enter into the realm of the kraken and I make my way to the minotaur with the help of my yellow sub-cone. We’ll see how that goes next turn.
We’re cranking out about 1 round per hour, which is pretty slow, but luckily people seem to be enjoying themselves by socializing while they wait for their turn. Plus people are getting the hang of it more, so turns are moving faster. Some of the more savvy players have already completed their roll phase and have mapped out their entire turn by the time it comes around to them, which speeds things up considerably.
Unfortunately Warrior 2 has to leave at this point, so I decide to take over her character to keep going. The other couple also expresses a need to leave at some point, so we decide to play out one more round before calling it a day.
The arbiter finally manages to draw some harvest cards, so she builds an army and repels wizard 1’s forces. Yay!
At the start of wizard 1’s turn, another chaos card goes off which prevents everyone from scavenging for a round, much to the corporal’s disappointment.
Warrior 1 draws the first challenge card of the game, but it turns out to be a dud and she gets no challenge points. Lame!
The corporal, on the other hand, manages to pull out 5 kraken points and he also pulls back his massive armies to his own territories. He’s had his fun with wizard 2 and I guess is going to move on and troll someone else now.
Wizard 2 also has a chaos card go off that forces him to switch positions with warrior 2, putting her on the peak and the wizard in the middle of her territory. This works out to the warrior’s advantage as she has 3 votes to the 1 vote of the maverick and wizard 1. She takes control of the Cone of Decision by correctly answering that the grey player has zero action cards. Wizard 1 had covered the cone on his own turn and she keeps it covered, meaning that light had been restored to the lands.
I pull a minotaur challenge card that nets me 11 minotaur points, so I am halfway to my first cone when we call the game for the day.
Everyone seemed to have a super-good time with the game, even though we didn’t get a whole lot done. We agree to all pick it up again in two weeks, where I am sure we could get through 5 or 6 more turns in the same amount time (~4 hours). It’s possible that we may need a third game session after that to actually declare a winner, but, as they say, it is the journey that is more important, and we all seemed to enjoy it enough to continue on down the path, and that is plenty good enough for me at this point, even if we never finish the game.
Honestly, I intended this to be 1-weekend thing, but I kind of like the long-form saga that this adventure is taking. It kind of reminds me of my college days playing Risk, where we would save the board in the empty room at the end of the hall and come back to it the following night to finish. I’m hesitant to say that I have fond memories of playing Risk (one of my all-time least favorite games), but it wasn’t really about the game – it was about the social atmosphere. Having a good time with your friends and laughing as the yellow player just goes crazy and uses all his resources to ceaselessly attack another player over and over past the point where it makes any tactical sense.
It’s all in good fun.